China and Inner Asia
In recent years, popular and scholarly accounts of contemporary China have perceived a moral crisis, pointing to notorious cases of injured bodies left to die and Good Samaritans extorted on the nation’s streets. To address this world of unprecedented blasé and calculating attitudes, critics often return to foundational sociological paradigms and center their analyses on the lack of trust between strangers in a society that privileges kinship. Analyses based on moral panic often reinforce the notion of the crowd as a site of danger rather than politics while ignoring subjects who fall outside of normative conceptions of kinship and become the targets of state surveillance. I am interested in how a focus on queer phenomenology can intervene in and trouble these conversations on the orientations of Chinese urban life.
In this paper, I turn to an online bulletin board that has served as an archive of desire for queer men living in the city of Xi’an. Personals, which take the form of Craigslist-style missed connections, describe fleeting encounters in which writers affected and were affected by strangers in public space. Through these entries, I consider the significance of the bulletin board as a medium for performing nonnormative desire, how writers create a space to dwell in the midst of government crackdowns and urban renewal, and how these traces of public cruising and intimacy constitute a queer world-making project in contemporary China.